“Many, many years ago, in a sad country, far away, there was an enormous mountain made of rough, black rock. At dusk, on the top of this mountain, a magic rose bloomed every night and would grant immortality. But nobody would dare come close since it had many poisoned thorns. Every night, the rose wilted without granting its gifts to anyone – because among men, the fear of pain weighed more than the promise of immortality.”
Guillermo del Toro’s children protagonists always show incredible maturity. In his 2001 film, “The Devil’s Backbone,” and his 2006 film “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the children are forced to withstand nightmarish situations, yet they respond with grace and maturity, instead of resentment and hatred. When introducing his latest film at the American Film Institute in New York, del Toro explained that he sought to recapture the true fairy tale – a fairy tale that does not have the traditional happy ending with the generic story of good triumphing over evil. Instead, his fairly tale takes us deep into the hardships of post civil war Spain – a country and people still hurting from the pains of war and torn between contending ideologies. And like a good fairy tale, del Toro wants to teach us something through the noble actions of his characters.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is the story of a young girl who travels with her pregnant mother to a military outpost in rural Spain. Although the civil war is over, her new stepfather, Captain Vidal, holds the fort against the rebel guerrilla groups of the region. On the backdrop of fascist repression and violence, Ofelia is drawn into a mystical, old labyrinth and uncovers a tale that has long been forgotten. The tale has it that Ofelia, or Princess Moanna of the Underworld, once escaped the mystical pain-free and immortal underworld because she dreamed of the world above. Once in the world, she fell subject to the pains of being human, forgot her true nature and eventually died. Her father, though, anxiously awaits her return to the Pan’s Labyrinth, the last existing portal for Princess Moanna to return to her home. Ofelia, Princess Moanna’s latest incarnation, must pass three tests that will challenge her physically and mentally, as well as demonstrate her self-confidence and ability to make her own decisions.
Ofelia has obviously had a rough life. She was born into a war-torn country, her father died and her mother remarried a cruel and heartless military leader whom she must call “father.” She was obviously brought to the country against her will from her familiar surroundings. Nevertheless, in spite of her young age, she is mature and although the magic of her fairy tales brings her joy, she still falls victim to the cruel world and is killed by her stepfather. And in spite of the cruel life and the hardships, she still believes in magic and has a beautiful outlook on life. She tries desperately to help those she loves, even if they may do something that hurts her. Ofelia doesn’t harbor the resentment or hurt that often joins the most tragic of situations. Instead, she trusts her instincts and stands up for what she believes is right. When we compare this attitude to that of Captain Vidal, it is clear that she takes a stand, instead of assuming that her “superiors” or the authorities know best and therefore must be obeyed without question, very typical of a fascist dictatorship. Captain Vidal is obviously convinced that orders require obedient action, and he responds to dissonance with violence. Ofelia, meanwhile, disobeys the faun and would prefer to give up her whole hopeful future as a princess to protect her brother – Vidal’s son, whose birth killed her mother and who the captain treated so much better than her.
In the end, it is really up to the viewer to decide in the reality of Ofelia’s experience of her fantastic parallel universe. For some, the story dies along with her imagination. Others, however, may recognize that Ofelia is met with a tragic end in this world, but, rather than losing the world of her faith, dies into it and returns home to be with her true father. The fairy tale ends with her celebratory return to her kingdom, where “she ruled with justice and goodness for many centuries. She was loved by her subjects. And she left behind little traces of her journey through the world, visible only to those who know where to look….”
Ofelia withstands pain and hardship, does not resent her little infant brother, whose birth killed her mother, and chooses to spill her own blood before harming an innocent infant. She shows true faithfulness and through her virtue, she is granted immortality.